This year I am telling the ‘other’ stories – loudly and without apology! I am talking those things that dont make the mainstream news often, except when people die. I want to write about them.
Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, at a TED event (http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html) speaks of ‘the danger of a single story’ – that story that presents a person, place or thing as one-dimensional. We all have them – we speak about people of a certain tribe/race/gender/profession in a particular way, respond to them in a particular way because ‘they are like that’. We have very particular expectations of certain people or certain roles – and are surprised or suspicious if they turn out to be different. We have a single story that we tell of ourselves as Africans even when we know that it is not the only story we can tell. Well I am tired of the single story about Africa and Africans (often told by Africans) that focuses on that which does not work; that spotlights only those who fail, or steal, or destroy. I am fed up of those conversations that cut people’s dreams into little pieces, that seem to say ‘the status quo cannot change; those conversations that perpetuate the negative, make us believe, at a very subliminal level, that as Africans are unable to run un-corrupt governments, have great economies, create anything new or do anything good! These stories are too simple, they are an easy cop-out – and they are silent on the rest of the picture – the many other stories of people who enable, create new realities, make a difference everyday. I want to tell the other stories.
This year I will recognise and celebrate those Africans, who make or have made a difference. For some the contribution is small, and very personal or local; and for others, the impact is felt, immediately, by many, and sometimes over a very long period of time. I want to focus on HOPE, BELIEF, LOVE, POSSIBILITY, CREATIVITY, LOYALTY AND RESILIENCE – because that is what brings about change. We can only build on what is there, on what is working, on what is not broken. But if we do not recognise what is working, if we do not see or tap into our potential, how then can we change? I want to focus on that which is working, that has potential, that we can build on – and on those who have, in some way supported, or enabled.
MY INSPIRATION? My mother and father, who were great nation builders. Throughout my life, and even after their passing, I have seen or heard about how they supported people, challenged people and stepped into difficult situations boldly because it was the right thing to do. They did their best for the family (immediate and extended) and Uganda at large. Here is one small story:
We were 5 children, and the two who came before me had cerebral palsy. My parents believed in education and when they realised that Fay and Chris would not be able to go to normal schools they got together with 6 other parents, and a few other people they started the Kampala School for the Mentally and Physically Handicapped. They started out in a store-room at Mengo Primary School (Mrs. Wambuzi was the headmistress) and later the school moved to its current premises, land which was given them by the Kabaka. Many children who would otherwise not have gone to school, or who would have remained hidden, as a curse, got an opportunity to have an education, and parents got support. I remember taking Fay and Chris to school there, and just loving the way the other children loved them. The children had access to physical therapy and occupational therapy at Mengo Hospital – and then, as Amin’s regime progressed this fizzled out. Soon, it became obvious that the school did not have the staff trained to support Fay and Chris, and they stopped going to school. The name of the school dropped the ‘mentally handicapped’ because there were not enough staff to support them. But my parents remained involved in the school for a very long time! They helped develop a vocational education wing, which the current headmistress has developed into an amazing centre.
When my father passed away in 2006, the first people to put an orbituary in the papers, even before we as a family did, were the Old boys and Girls Association of the Kampala School for the Physically Handicapped. And at my mother’s funeral last year, one of the old boys came and spoke. On the side he told us that his disability was a result of an accident as a child, and his family disowned him, and left him at the school. He said my mother supported him, encouraged him to go to secondary school after he passed his P7, encouraged him to do his tertiary education, and he is now an accountant, drives a car, and supports the family that rejected him.
The school lives on, over 40 years later, and many who go there do not know my parents, or the other people involved in the starting of the school. For me, though, this school teaches me something – that in addressing a personal challenge it is possible to help others beyond your life time!
For a long time I have wanted to find a way to honour them and I think that collecting stories of people who make a difference is one way of doing this.
I am inspired everyday by ordinary people who quietly get on with life, not complaining, but actively making a difference in one life, or 100 lives, inspiring others, believing in others, standing up for others, inventing, creating and actively making a difference. Like the woman in Khayelitsha (a township in Cape Town) whose daughter had cerebral palsy, and died young, but she went on, with nothing, to create a school to support other children and parents with the same challenges.
I am also inspired by the book the Vision Group in Uganda published to celebrate 50 years of independence – reminding us of the people who stood up and made a difference. Stories of 148 people (a small number) of people who made a difference. And while the vision book focused on those who had contributed positively and negatively, I would like to focus on those that inspire.
I commit to write about someone at least once a fortnight; to share a story about an African making a difference. Some will be people who are well-known, and some will be little known – and doing what seems like something very small and insignificant, but they will, in my opinion, be making a difference.
JUST SO THAT YOU KNOW: I will, without apology, write about people who I know, who may even be related to me as well as those who I do not personally know, because bold, inspiring, courageous acts happen everyday, in big and small ways, and often the contributions of those closest to us go unnoticed. I want to acknowledge all those who I think are making a difference in one way or another.
My INVITATION to you: If you have a story you want to share, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org